Blast From the Past

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There are iconic symbols and names in every country and culture, things that just “ring a bell” with us and capture our attention.  Let me give you an example:

How many of you recall this jingle: “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star, the big, bright Texaco star!”  Ring any jingle bells with you?

For those of you who don’t recognize what is in today’s photo, it’s a gas pump from a Texaco station.  But this particular gas pump was from an iconic location: does the phrase “Route 66” ring bells?

Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway and colloquially known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System. Though Route 66 was officially established on November 11, 1926—with road signs erected the following year, its origins go much further back: in 1857, Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale, a Naval officer in the service of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, was ordered by the War Department to build a government-funded wagon road along the 35th Parallel. His secondary orders were to test the feasibility of the use of camels as pack animals in the southwestern desert. This road became part of U.S. Route 66. The highway, at one time perhaps the most famous road in America, eventually ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas,  Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending at Santa Monica, California, covering a total of 2,448 miles.  It was recognized in popular culture by both the hit song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” and the Route 66 television show in the 1960’s.

Route 66 was major path for those who migrating west, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, and it supported the economies of the communities through which the road passed. People doing business along the route prospered due to the popularity of the highway, and they later fought to keep the highway alive in the face of the growing threat posed by the new Interstate Highway System.

Route 66 underwent many improvements and realignments over its lifetime, and it was officially removed from the United States Highway System on June 27, 1985, after it was replaced in its entirety by the Interstate Highway System. Portions of the road that passed through Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona have been designated a National Scenic Byway of the name “Historic Route 66”, which is returning to some maps. Several states have adopted significant bypassed sections of the former US 66 into the state road network as State Route 66.

We recently saw a lot of the route, and it is no longer in good shape for the most part as upkeep has been greatly reduced or eliminated, but it runs parallel to the interstate system for miles.  In a way, the iconic nature of the road has only increased by its dilapidated and aged appearance.  (Sorta like me!)

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: the John Hughes-directed movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” was released on this day in 1986.  A young Matthew Broderick played a popular high school student in suburban Illinois who faked an illness in order to have a day off from school, then led his best friend and girlfriend on an eventful day through Chicago. The cast also included Mia Sara and Jennifer Grey, but the most memorable performer may have been an automobile: (in keeping with the Route 66 theme today!) the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California, a custom-built car revered by auto collectors.

In the movie, the Ferrari—with the license plate NRVOUS—belonged to Ferris’ depressive best friend’s dad, and Ferris convinced his friend, Cameron, to liberate the car from its museum-like home and drive it to Chicago. The teens leave the car with garage attendants, who take it for a high-speed joyride. On the way home, Cameron goes into shock when Ferris notices that hundreds of miles have been added to the odometer. As they attempt, unsuccessfully, to remove the miles by running the Ferrari backwards, Cameron starts venting his anger at his father by kicking the front end of the coddled car. His tantrum dislodges the blocks holding it in off the ground while the wheels spin in reverse, sending the Ferrari through the glass wall of the garage and into the ravine behind the house.

According to Motor Trend, the first Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California—colloquially known as the “Cal Spyder”—was produced in 1957 and the last was built in early 1963. In addition, Ferrari produced a sportier, short-wheelbase model. Estimates vary as to how many were made—Cameron says “less than a hundred” in the film—but approximately 46 LWB and between 50 and 57 SWB Spyders were produced in all. For “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” the filmmakers used a modified MGB roadster with a fiberglass body as a stand-in for the Ferrari. The filmmakers reportedly received angry letters from car enthusiasts who believed that a real Ferrari had been damaged.

One 1961 250 GT SWB Spyder California, with chassis number GT 2377GT, belonged to the actor James Coburn (“The Magnificent Seven”), who died in 2002. On May 18, 2008, at the second annual Ferrari Leggenda e Passione event at Maranello, Italy, the British deejay Chris Evans bought that car at auction for 6.4 million Euros, or $10,894,400 (including fees), the highest price ever paid for an automobile at auction.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  one suicide victim who committed suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge left behind a note saying: “I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.”

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